The UK’s most inspiring school library

Written by: Emma Lee-Potter | Published:
Inspiration: The award-winning school library at Valley Park School in Kent, which sees up to 500 pupils a day through its doors

What makes the perfect school library? Emma Lee-Potter speaks to the secondary winner of this year’s School Library Inspiration Award to find out

Modern, sophisticated, with an immediate sense of space and light. These were just a few of the words the judges of a prestigious award used to describe the state-of-the-art library at Valley Park School in Maidstone, Kent.

The judging panel for the School Library Inspiration Award 2015 was so impressed by Valley Park’s stunning library that it named the school as the joint winner of the prize, along with All Saints Primary School in Stibbard, Norfolk.

A team from Valley Park – headteacher Vic Ashdown, assistant headteacher Aoife Houlihan, librarian Fay Holmes, year 12 student Harry Harding and year 10 pupils Josie Biggs and Kyle Siwek – travelled to London earlier this month to collect the award at a ceremony hosted by the School Library Association at the Royal Society of Arts.

The award was presented by award-winning children’s author Kevin Brooks.

The three students visited each year group when they got back to announce the news at a series of school assemblies.

“We are absolutely thrilled to win the award,” said Ms Houlihan.

“We realise how beautiful the space is and just how lucky we are to have such a beautiful library. It has been designed with the needs of our students in mind and this is why it is so popular with them.

“In a time where school libraries are being closed, our senior team invested in ours. The traditional values we promote at Valley Park are also promoted by the traditional print material housed here and offer students a world to be explored through texts.

“Furthermore, if we provide students with an environment that allows them to achieve their potential and motivates them to achieve then we reap the rewards.

“We should be encouraging skills now for lifelong learning and both through the space and the support offered by the library I think we have achieved this.

“Promoting independence and the opportunity to engage in learning beyond the classroom is vital for students’ futures. Our library is important as it is the heart of the school.”

When the library, which takes up two-thirds of the top floor of a new teaching block, opened in 2014, the school, which has nearly 1,500 pupils, was keen to buck the local trend of library closures and librarian redundancies.

In the year since then, up to 500 students have used the library every day – for private study, reading lessons, author events, homework club (which runs till 4:30pm), information literacy teaching, and a host of other activities.

Librarian Fay Holmes and assistant librarian Junell Harrington recommend books, write reviews and display books they have enjoyed – and students are encouraged to do the same.

The library opens at 8am and is used throughout the day. Fourteen pupils act as student librarians, key stage 3 pupils have one hour of library lessons per fortnight as part of the English curriculum, and sixth form students are required to have one hour of private study in the library every day. The school’s teaching staff also use the space for their CPD sessions.

Break and lunchtimes are the busiest times, with students revising, reading quietly, using the ICT facilities, playing chess and completing project work.

The judges were full of praise for the way students use the Valley Park library.

“Evidence of this library’s impact could be discerned in our observations of how positively students engaged with its offer and in the voices of its staff who discussed the difference it had made to their teaching, the nature of the support it gave to students and the way it had changed the reading culture of the school,” they said.

Speaking at the award ceremony, Tricia Adams, director of the School Library Association, said the judges had been impressed by the quality of entries for the award.

“It is reassuring to see schools valuing the role a library plays, not only in the education of our children but in their social and emotional development,” she added.

This year’s School Librarian of the Year Award went to Annie Brady, who runs the library at St Paul’s CBS Secondary School in Dublin.

The runners-up were Chris Routh from Leighton Park School in Reading, and Jane Spall from Aith Junior High School in the Shetland Isles.

  • Emma Lee-Potter is a freelance education journalist.

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